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Law School Case Brief

Masters v. Becker - 22 A.D.2d 118, 254 N.Y.S.2d 633 (App. Div. 1964)

Rule:

The correct rule as to intent for assault is namely: that intent is established if an act is done with the intention of inflicting upon another an offensive but not a harmful bodily contact or of putting another in apprehension of either a harmful or offensive bodily contact, and such act causes a bodily contact to the other although the act was not done with the intention of bringing about the resulting bodily harm.

Facts:

Plaintiff S.M., who was six years old, together with nine-year old defendant C.B. and C.B.'s sister, were playing on a motor truck in an empty lot; S.M. was standing on a narrow ledge on the outside of the truck's tailgate. C.B. told or at least urged S.M. to get off; S.M. refused and cried, saying she was frightened. Then C.B. pried S.M.'s fingers off the tailgate, and S.M. fell to the ground, sustaining severe injuries. S.M., by Ralph Masters, her guardian ad litem filed a lawsuit in New York state court against C.B., by Nathaniel A. Kahn, her guardian ad litem, alleging a cause of action for assault. At trial, C.B.'s testimony indicated that she pried S.M.'s fingers off the truck to force S.M. to give C.B. and her sister their turns to get onto the ledge so that they could jump off. S.M.'s counsel requested the trial court to charge the jury that S.M. was required to establish only that C.B.'s act was done with intent to inflict an offensive bodily contact. The trial court refused that request and charged the jury that S.M. was required to establish that C.B. intended the act that resulted in injury, that she intended to commit an injury, and that she intended the very injury sustained by S.M. The trial court also posed the question: Can a nine-year old, by her action, intend the injury that resulted in the present case? The jury rendered a verdict for C.B., and the trial court entered judgment on the verdict. S.M. appealed.

Issue:

Was S.M. required to prove that C.B. intended to inflict physical harm establish an assault?

Answer:

No.

Conclusion:

Upon review, the appellate division reversed the trial court's judgment and remanded the case for a new trial. The court observed that, under established New York law, in an action to recover damages for an assault founded on bodily contact, a plaintiff must prove only that there was bodily contact; that such contact was offensive; and that the defendant intended to make the contact. Thus, the court ruled, the trial court's rulings and instructions were not in harmony with the law and were highly prejudicial. S.M was not required to prove that C.B. intended to physically harm S.M. and was not required to prove that C.B. intended the specific injuries that resulted from her contact with S.M.

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